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Track(s) taken from CDA67528

Hermit Songs, Op 29


Gerald Finley (baritone), Julius Drake (piano)
Recording details: December 2005
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: November 2007
Total duration: 1 minutes 17 seconds

Cover artwork: Sunset, Montclair (detail) (1892) by George Inness (1825-1894)
Private Collection, David Findlay Jnr Fine Art, NYC, USA / Bridgeman Art Library, London


'Performances of this calibre emphasise Barber's stature in the mainstream of 20th-century song composers … Finley and Drake are impeccable (as are the Aronowitz Quartet in Dover Beach) … this is another outstanding Hyperion release that does credit to Barber in what will soon be a run-up to his centenary' (Gramophone)

'Gerald Finley is golden in tone, persuasive in phrasing, and unfailingly responsive to the sound and sense of the words. Julius Drake once more proves a strong and imaginative partner, and a quartet from the Aronowitz Ensemble makes a promising recording debut … a very satisfying recital' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The indefatigable Gerald Finley, who makes even the most straight-laced song shine … Julius Drake is his ever percipient partner, while the strings of the Aronowitz Ensemble provide an atmospheric backing for the most famous of these songs, Dover Beach' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The performances are outstanding. Canadian baritone Finley is in top form, showing total command of his voice with stunning hushed singing and ringing top notes. Drake is his reliable accompanist … everything about this recording is terrific' (American Record Guide)

'Baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake follow their outstanding disc of songs by Charles Ives with a collection devoted to a very different American composer. Samuel Barber's particularly personal brand of romanticism seems so natural and unforced, it's unnecessary to attach the prefix 'neo-' to it. Barber's gifts for elegant, melodic writing and his own early experiences as a singer (he once contemplated a career as a baritone) made him a natural songwriter, and two of the works here—the 10 settings of medieval Irish texts that make up his Hermit Songs Op 29, and the magically rapt version of Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach—are among his finest achievements in any genre. The Mélodies Passagères, composed in the early 1950s for Pierre Bernac and Francis Poulenc, are a homage to French song; three other settings of James Joyce and some of Barber's songs to American texts are also included. Finley is a wonderfully persuasive advocate for all these songs, and shows that the best of them rank among the greatest of the 20th century' (The Guardian)

'Finley captures the 'eternal note of sadness' that the poet Matthew Arnold hears on the wave-dragged shingle on Dover Beach … Finley and Drake make an excellent partnership throughout' (The Times)

'In my book, Samuel Barber is one of the finest of all songwriters of the 20th century … every human emotion … is astutely conveyed. Gerald Finley knows this well, and here sings some of Barber's finest … ably assisted by the pianist Julius Drake, Finley communicates with finesse every poetic nuance, his golden baritone allied to rare poetic intelligence' (The Sunday Times)

'Having served the songs of Charles Ives with enormous distinction, the partnership of baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake shift artistic gear to explore works by one of America's greatest tunesmiths. Samuel Barber's lyrical writing and subtle feeling for expressive shading were matched in his songs by a Britten-like aptness for word-setting, which ideally suits Finley's compelling blend of emotional conviction and vocal sensibility. On the strength of his interpretation of the Hermit Songs alone, regardless of his majestic readings of Barber's Rilke settings and Dover Beach, Finley enables this album to command its price as one of the year's finest vocal releases. Unmissable' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Finley’s best work … this disc has an admirable program … Finley makes a firm and pleasing sound and he can command the nuances when necessary … Julius Drake’s accompaniments strike me as right and are a pleasure to hear' (Fanfare, USA)

'A CD of Barber's songs may, on the surface, seem like too much of a good thing, until you listen to Finley's magisterial survey … using his handsome baritone to explore the Britten-esque lyricism of the Hermit songs and the Francophone poetry of his Mélodies passagères' (Financial Times)

'Hearing the Hermit Songs in a man's voice, this man's voice, is little short of a revelation … there's a world of feeling in these 10 songs, and Finley, accompanied throughout by pianist Julius Drake in a way that would make Barber proud, burrows deeply into every niche … I held my breath before 'Sure on this shining night', my favorite Barber song of all, an ecstatic setting of a rapturous James Agee poem that's harder to bring off than its simple, swelling lines would suggest. Finley hit it out of the park' (Bay Area Reporter, USA)

'[Finley's] warm timbre, technical facility, fluid, natural phrasing, and conscientious expression brings an easy, unforced clarity to the texts, ideally characterizing each song without distracting mannerisms or undue dramatic inflections … it would be hard to imagine performances more purely beautiful, sensitive, and true to the music and poetry than Finley's' (ClassicsToday.com)
Probably Barber’s best-known set of songs is the Hermit Songs Op 29, a group of ten settings of translations of medieval Gaelic or Latin poems attributed to Irish saints and holy persons. The composer himself wrote of the songs: ‘They are settings of anonymous Irish texts of the eighth to thirteenth centuries written by monks and scholars, often on the margins of manuscripts they were copying or illuminating—perhaps not always meant to be seen by their Father Superiors. They are small poems, thoughts or observations, some very short, and speak in straightforward, droll, and often surprisingly modern terms of the simple life these men led, close to nature, to animals and to God.’

For the most part brief and deftly limned, these delightful songs were composed in 1952–3 and dedicated to the great American patroness of contemporary music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, whose Foundation had given Barber a grant to complete the work. The premiere was given on 30 October 1953 in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress, Washington by a young and then-unknown soprano called Leontyne Price, with the composer at the piano.

Barber’s chosen texts—some of the translations were specially made for him—are very varied, ranging from the reverent The Crucifixion with its cold bird-cries, to the playful The Monk and His Cat. His settings are equally well contrasted, from epigram (Promiscuity) to extended meditation (The Desire for Hermitage); they seem to offer a conspectus of Barber’s wide range of mood and characterization, as well as his sense of humour. The songs are all written without time-signatures, a device which aids their flexibility of phrasing and word-setting. Mostly they do in fact fall into recognizable metres, but the fluidly changing bar-lengths of the scherzo-like The Heavenly Banquet and the insistent toccata of Sea Snatch confirm that the stresses in these songs derive from the words, not from any independent musical design. There are also notable passages of free, unbarred recitative, as in the introduction to St Ita’s Vision (the main part of the song being a tender berceuse) or the piano cadenza that forms the intense climax of The Desire for Hermitage. The florid and syncopated The Praises of God is a song where Barber seems to draw near to the song-writing manners of his close contemporary and friend Benjamin Britten. Perhaps the best-loved of all these songs is The Monk and his Cat, on a poem famous in cat literature, beginning ‘Pangur, white Pangur, / How happy we are’. Here the lazy flowing rhythm, the piano’s mewing crushed seconds, and the bluesy harmony conjure up a warm impression of perfect human-feline contentment.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2007

Les Hermit Songs, op. 29, probablement le corpus mélodique le plus connu de Barber, mettent en musique dix traductions de poèmes médiévaux gaéliques ou latins attribués à des saints et à des personnages saints irlandais. Le compositeur écrivit à leur propos: «Ce sont des mises en musique de textes irlandais anonymes datés du VIIIe au XIIIe siècle et rédigés par des moines et des érudits, souvent dans les marges des manuscrits qu’ils copiaient ou enluminaient—mais que leurs pères supérieurs n’étaient peut-être pas toujours censés voir. Ce sont des petits poèmes, des pensées ou des observations, parfois très courtes, qui disent en termes directs, drôles et souvent étonnamment modernes la vie simple de ces hommes, proches de la nature, des animaux et de Dieu.»

Souvent brèves et habilement troussées, ces charmantes mélodies composées en 1952–3 furent dédiées à la grande mécène américaine de la musique contemporaine Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, dont la Fondation avait accordé à Barber une bourse pour terminer son œuvre. La première fut donnée le 30 octobre 1953 au Coolidge Auditorium de la Library of Congress (Washington) par une jeune soprano alors inconnue, Leontyne Price, avec le compositeur au piano.

Barber choisit des textes très variés—certaines traductions furent faites spécialement pour lui—, allant du révérencieux The Crucifixion (avec ses froids cris d’oiseau) à l’enjoué The Monk and his Cat. Tout aussi contrastées, ses mises en musique vont de l’épigramme (Promiscuity) à la méditation prolongée (The Desire for Hermitage), illustrant bien sa large palette d’atmosphères et de caractérisations, mais aussi son sens de l’humour. Ces mélodies sont toutes écrites sans signe de la mesure, ce qui accroît la flexibilité de leur phrasé et de leur mise en musique des mots. En réalité, presque toutes se conforment à des mètres identifiables; The Heavenly Banquet (de type scherzo) ou la toccata «motorique» de Sea Snatch confirment cependant, par leurs longueurs de mesure aux changements instables, que les accents viennent des mots et non de quelque schéma musical indépendant. On trouve aussi de remarquables passages de récitatif libre, affranchi, comme dans l’introduction de St Ita’s Vision (dont la partie principale est une tendre berceuse) ou dans la cadenza pianistique qui forme l’intense climax de The Desire for Hermitage. The Praises of God est une mélodie fleurie et syncopée, où Barber semble s’orienter vers l’écriture mélodique de son proche contemporain et ami Benjamin Britten. Mais la mieux aimée de toutes ces mélodies est peut-être The Monk and his Cat, sur un poème («Pangur, white Pangur, / How happy we are») célèbre dans la littérature consacrée aux chats. Ici, le rythme au flux indolent, les secondes pianistiques tassées, miaulantes et l’harmonie bluesy se conjuguent pour donner une chaleureuse impression de parfait contentement humain et félin.

extrait des notes rédigées par Calum MacDonald © 2007
Français: Hypérion

Womöglich Barbers bestbekannter Liederzyklus sind die Hermit Songs op. 29, eine Gruppe von zehn Vertonungen von Übersetzungen mittelalterlicher gälischer und lateinischer Texte, die irischen Heiligen und Geistlichen zugeschrieben sind. Der Komponist selbst schrieb über diese Lieder: „Es sind Vertonungen anonymer irischer Texte aus dem 8.–13. Jahrhundert, die—oft am Rande der Manuskripte, die sie kopierten oder illuminierten—von Mönchen und Gelehrten geschrieben wurden, und die womöglich oft nicht von ihrem Pater superior gesehen werden sollten. Es sind kleine Gedichte, Gedanken oder Beobachtungen, oft sehr kurz, und sprechen auf direkte, eigenartige und oft überraschend moderne Weise über das schlichte, der Natur, den Tieren und Gott nahe Leben, das diese Menschen führten.“

Diese anmutigen, zum größten Teil kurzen und geschickt gezeichneten Lieder wurden 1952–53 komponiert und der großen amerikanischen Kunstmäzenin Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge gewidmet, deren Stiftung Barber ein Stipendium gewährt hatte, um das Werk zu vollenden. Die Uraufführung fand am 30. Oktober 1953 im Coolidge Auditorium der Library of Congress in Washington statt, mit der jungen und damals noch unbekannten Sopranistin Leontyne Price und dem Komponisten am Klavier.

Barbers gewählte Texte—deren Übersetzungen teilweise speziell für ihn angefertigt wurden—sind sehr unterschiedlich und reichen vom frommen The Crucifixion mit seinem kalten Vogelgeschrei bis zum spielerischen The Monk and His Cat. Seine Vertonungen sind gleichermaßen wohl kontrastiert, vom epigrammatischen Promiscuity bis zur ausgedehnten Meditation (The Desire for Hermitage) und scheinen einen Überblick über Barbers Bandbreite an Stimmungen und Charakterisierung sowie seinen Humor zu bieten. Die Lieder sind alle ohne Taktangabe geschrieben, eine Technik, die ihre Flexiblilität in Phrasierung und Wortvertonung unterstützt. Sie fallen zwar weitgehend in erkennbare Metren, aber die flüssig changierende Taktlänge des scherzohaften The Heavenly Banquet oder der motorischen Toccata von Sea Snatch bestätigen, dass die Betonungen in diesen Liedern von den Worten selbst bestimmt werden statt eines unabhängigen musikalischen Musters. Es gibt außerdem Passagen freien Rezitativs ohne Taktstriche wie in der Einleitung zu St Ita’s Vision (der Hauptteil des Liedes ist eine zarte Berceuse) oder eine Klavierkadenz, die den intensiven Höhepunkt in The Desire for Hermitage bildet. Das zierreiche, synkopierte The Praises of God ist ein Lied, in dem Barber der Liederschreibweise seines engen Zeitgenossen und Freundes Benjamin Britten nahe kommt. Das beliebteste all dieser Lieder ist womöglich The Monk and his Cat auf das der Katzenliteratur berühmte Gedicht „Pangur, white Pangur, / How happy we are“. Hier beschwören der träge fließende Rhythmus, die knirschend miauenden Sekunden des Klaviers und die blueshafte Harmonik einen warmen Eindruck vollkommener Behaglichkeit von Katze und Mensch herauf.

aus dem Begleittext von Calum MacDonald © 2007
Deutsch: Renate Wendel

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